Although Penn wrestling doesn’t often feature Philadelphia natives on its roster, this year’s squad includes two freshmen who call the City of Brotherly Love home. And now that they’re with the Quakers, home is where they get to stay.
Jon Guevara of Philadelphia’s Central High School and Des Johnson — who attended Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, a private school in the northern part of the city — count themselves as two of the team’s three locals. Senior Casey Kent is the other.
Although both freshmen hail from Philadelphia, each started their wrestling careers in very different fashions. Johnson, who will wrestle in the 184-pound class this year, has Penn wrestling in his blood — his father, Morris Johnson, was an assistant coach under legendary Penn wrestling head coach Roger Reina.
The younger Johnson grew up as part of the program and can remember his father taking him to practices as a young child. On top of that, the rookie participated in judo from ages 5 to 9, whereupon he made the transition to wrestling.
And he always had his eyes set on Penn wrestling.
“This is always what I’ve been working towards,” Johnson said. “I’ve always wanted to come here.”
Guevara, on the other hand, came to the team via a different path, although he too had connections to Penn wrestling before he donned the Red and Blue. The 125-pounder did not begin wrestling until high school and never thought he would participate at the collegiate level until his sophomore year, when he began to see dramatic improvements in his ability on the mat.
During this time, Guevara became involved with Beat the Streets Philly, an organization dedicated to promoting youth and high school wrestling in the Philadelphia area. As he made his mark on the Philadelphia high school wrestling scene, winning Philadelphia Public League championships during his junior and senior years, Guevara got to know Beat the Streets’s executive director, former Penn wrestler Chris Hanlon.
Hanlon noticed Guevara’s talent and talked to coach Alex Tirapelle, who needed some depth in the 125-pound category. When then-sophomore Jeremy Schwartz missed time last season with an injury, the Quakers were forced to forfeit matches for that weight class in some dual meets as they had no other grapplers to take his place.
As a result, Guevara was not recruited through the usual process involving official visits. But after Hanlon’s testimony to his talent and a face-to-face meeting with Tirapelle, Guevara was offered a spot on the team through his prowess on the mat and academic aptitude.
Besides Hanlon’s leadership of the program, Beat the Streets features heavy involvement from Penn’s program, so many of Guevara’s teammates’ faces were familiar even before he joined the team.
“The wrestlers here have worked really closely with Beat the Streets, and they go and mentor high school students,” Guevara said. “So that helped me too.”
Johnson could eventually face some familiar foes from the high school wrestling scene in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association, such as Cornell freshman Jake Anderson and Harvard freshman L.J. Barlow, both of whom also wrestled at Philadelphia prep schools. However, Guevara’s feat is rare, as few — if any — wrestlers from Philadelphia public high schools manage to move on to collegiate wrestling.
“There are a lot of kids with talent, but the funding isn’t there,” Guevara said of Philadelphia’s struggling public school district.
Both freshmen appreciate the state-of-the-art facilities and high-quality coaching that they now receive as wrestlers for the Red and Blue.
“It’s great to be here,” Johnson said.
After all, it’s always great to come home.
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